Kindergarten test sparks controversy in Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor Elementary School principal Dorothy Day explains how kindergarten teachers adjusted to the new schedule. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Elementary School principal Dorothy Day explains how kindergarten teachers adjusted to the new schedule.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Despite concern from parents that the switch to every-other-day, full-day kindergarten removes consistency from learning, the Kindergarten “DIBELS” test results imply otherwise.

“Our decision to go with the kindergarten decision this year was a fiscal decision,” said Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon at the Oak Harbor School Board meeting Monday. “We never would have chosen this if it was purely about instruction.”

The switch from everyday, half-day kindergarten to every-other-day, full-day kindergarten saved the school district $60,000 by eliminating midday transportation, which isn’t funded by the state. It was one of many cuts the district faced this year, including reducing middle school days by 30 minutes and eliminating teachers and staff.

The DIBELS test is the only standardized measure for kindergarten students and is used by teachers to adjust instruction.

“It’s a snapshot. It tells a story,” Gibbon said.

Test results show that the students improved — from scores below the benchmark to far above — between the beginning of the school year and the middle.

“Our students saw accelerated growth,” Gibbon said.

Gibbon said he doesn’t attribute this to the kindergarten schedule change. Instead, he credits the teachers, who worked hard to adjust to the new schedule and received intensive training through the Department of Defense literacy grant last summer. The grant funds a program to improve the teaching of reading for preschool through fifth grade.

Dorothy Day, Oak Harbor Elementary School principal, explained the process kindergarten teachers went through to develop new routines and curriculum to cope with the new schedule. Teachers from other districts already on this schedule collaborated with Oak Harbor teachers to identify the important components of the curriculum and create a curriculum calendar.

Throughout the year, teachers have made adjustments, such as moving math to the morning when children are more focused, and they will meet again in spring to revise further, Day said.

Susan Kovar, a literacy coach, said the Department of Defense literacy grant couldn’t have come at a better time. The training teachers received over the summer was vital and helped them develop a good routine that sticks despite students attending school every-other-day, Kovar said.

Misty Martin, a kindergarden teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, said she focuses on routine and making sure the students know what to expect from her. She writes the schedule on the board and now has the students write it so they know what’s coming up.

“I try to make it as consistent as possible,” Martin said, adding that for some of the students, she’s the most consistent part of their lives.

But the learning doesn’t end when the school day does and Martin said she expects parents to work with their children outside of school.

Christine Higgins, a mother, said she does a home school program with her child on days off and she knows other families do, too.

“But I know there’s kids coming down the line who may not have a parent who can stay home and do that extra work with them,” Higgins said.

Social skills are built at this important time in a child’s life but they need consistency to make that happen, Higgins said.

“I would have been more than happy to pay for everyday kindergarten, as I know many other parents would be,” Higgins said.

Both she and Curtis Oakes, a father, urged the board not to consider the DIBELS scores as the only reason to continue with the current kindergarten schedule.

“Don’t say, ‘that looks good, OK, dodged that bullet,’” Oakes said.

“The biggest cost is the lack of consistency,” Oakes said, adding that he finds that his daughter isn’t learning as quickly because she needs the repetition and consistency of everyday school. She isn’t progressing as quickly behaviorally as his older child.

School board member Christine Abbott said she wonders if the money saved by changing the schedule may end up being used to help these children get on track once they reach elementary school. Kovar said that teachers in other districts on this schedule said their students did a little better when they entered first grade because they had the stamina to stay in school all day.

School board president Corey Johnson said that he’s frustrated the board can’t do more to improve the situation but that the board wants to hear ways to help. To share an opinion, email Superintendent Rick Schulte at or Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon at


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